By Artem Chernamorian in Gyumri
Officials from the Lincy Foundation of Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian said Wednesday that its $45 million plan to rebuild Armenia’s northern regions devastated by the 1988 earthquake is being successfully implemented and will be complete by November.
Under the reconstruction program launched in 2001, a total of 4,000 families left homeless by the calamity will be provided with new homes. More than 2,500 homes are to be constructed the northwestern Shirak region, the worst hit area. But so far only about a thousand families there have moved into new apartments and houses, with 15 new apartment buildings constructed in the regional capital Gyumri.
Hrair Sargsian, a senior Lincy official in Yerevan, said the fund’s local contractors have sped up their work and will meet the November 1 deadline for its completion. He said they will build 37 new apartment blocks in Gyumri and finish the reconstruction of 38 other ones severely damaged by the 1988 quake.
Sargsian spoke to RFE/RL during a regular visit to Shirak by Artashes Tumanian, the chief of President Robert Kocharian’s staff who coordinates Lincy’s multimillion-dollar projects in Armenia. Tumanian was inspecting the local construction sites amid a bitter row between the regional authorities and the Gyumri municipality over who should distribute the new apartments in the city.
The home distribution was done by the city authorities until a December 2002 decision by the government in Yerevan transferring that authority to the Shirak administration. The Gyumri mayor, Vartan Ghukasian, considers the decision “unconstitutional” and refuses to comply with it. In a further display of defiance, he presided Tuesday over a municipality meeting that approved new housing for 40 more families.
“Everything built here is municipal property, and no one has the right to use it without our permission,” he told RFE/RL afterwards.
Shirak’s recently appointed governor, Romik Manukian, said on Wednesday that Ghukasian’s housing orders have no legal force, insisting that only his administration is now in a position to make such decisions. Manukian is a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a member of the governing coalition.
Tumanian also has close ties with Dashnaktsutyun, but he avoided openly taking sides in the extraordinary dispute. “I don’t care about it,” he said vaguely. “What matters is that the apartments be distributed fairly.”
According to government estimates, about 6,000 Gyumri families will remain homeless even after the completion of the Lincy program.